Friday, February 5, 2021


CROCODILE TEARS by Mercedes Rosende, translated by Tim Gutteridge (Bitter Lemon, 2021)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

The setting: Montevideo’s Old Town, with its dark alleys, crumbling facades and watchful residents. The gig: an armoured truck robbery. The cast: Diego, a failed kidnapper with weak nerves, Ursula Lopez, an amateur criminal with an insatiable appetite, the Hobo, a notorious hoodlum with excessive self-confidence. Dr Antinucci, a shady lawyer with big plans. And finally, Leonilda Lima, a washed-out police inspector with a glimmer of faith in justice..

One of my favourite things about books and reading is the ability to explore new places and perspectives via a page-whirring story. Perhaps growing up in New Zealand, a small (in population) country at the bottom of the world, played into me always being curious about the wider world. I've loved mystery and thriller tales since I was a kid too (thanks Hardy Boys etc), so nowadays it's no surprise I really like to read crime fiction from all over the world, and am a big fan of the publishers and translators who bring Anglophones like myself great stories from other languages. 

I've read several Latin American crime writers over the years, from a variety of countries (even Bolivia), but never anything from Uruguay (a country I briefly visited in 2008). Until now. 

So it was with some excitement I began reading CROCODILE TEARS recently, hoping to be dazzled rather than disappointed. Fortunately this first tale by Uruguayan lawyer and storyteller Mercedes Rosende to be translated into English is a real cracker. A darkly comic story of weak men, strong women, and a heist gone horribly wrong. A sort of Latin American calamity noir; shades of Fargo - though shifted to the grimy heat of Montevideo rather than the icy climes of the American Midwest. 

Diego is in prison, awaiting trial for a bumbling kidnapping plot that went awry. He's trying to survive the dangers of Uruguayan incarceration, only to be unexpectedly released thanks to a shady lawyer. The price? He has to team up with the notoriously violent Hobo to hijack an armoured car. 

What could go wrong?

Meanwhile Ursula Lopez is a voyeuristic woman with big dreams and big appetites. She's looking for a better life, by any means. Inspector Leonilda Lima is trying to keep her faith in justice while scrabbling among the misogyny and corruption of her police colleagues.

Lives collide, mayhem ensues. 

I thoroughly enjoyed CROCODILE TEARS. It's a deliciously dark thriller that gives readers a bit of a wink as it careens along, slipping between the perspectives and viewpoints of a variety of characters - as well as an authorial aside or two. Rosende, ably translated by Gutteridge, has some pizazz to her prose. There's an undercurrent of energy that suits the mayhem of the events that unfold. There's also something of a voyeuristic quality to the way Rosende takes readers into these characters lives, while commenting on them here and there. We're like Ursula, peering into the lives of others, fascinated. 

CROCODILES TEARS is a very good read that immerses us in the seamy world of some unusual, and quite memorable characters. If you enjoy darkly comic thrillers or stories of bumbling criminals and plans gone violently asunder, then I'd highly recommend you take a look. Another welcome addition to the global crime writing landscape. I'm hoping for more (in translation) from Rosende. 

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer from New Zealand, now living in London. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards and co-founder of Rotorua Noir. His first non-fiction book, SOUTHERN CROSS CRIME, was published in 2020. You can heckle him on Twitter. 

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